Monday, August 20, 2007

The Beauty Of A Contest

I just joined another writing contest. My nth one since deciding seven years ago that I was going to write what I want. For a living. In a Third World country like the Philippines. Yikes.

Writing what I want, for myself--while a fabulous concept when I was employed--posed a strange, unprecedented challenge for me. For the first time, it gave me nothing to fight against or to resist. At least, nothing that I was used to, like an egotistic, chauvinistic boss; a too-stiff and too-constricting work environment; unimaginative, demanding clients; tight deadlines.

With nothing and no one else to help define my work or to blame it on--all the things I had raged against, of which I had decided to free myself--I was slapped in the face with the realization that working alone is a bitch. It's like stripping down to nothing, not even one's undies, in the middle of the Ayala-Makati Ave intersection on a Monday morning. There is nowhere to hide and the question that swirls in one's head is: "Why did I think this was necessary again?" No wonder many people didn't do it, preferring to be employed and, um, clothed. It seemed, by far, the saner choice.

Since I insisted on being naked, anyway (perhaps a latent exhibitionist streak that was only making itself known), and a bit insane, relying on nothing and no one besides my kapal-muks and lakas-sikmurs, writing contests presented itself as a perfect crutch. It gave me just the right amount of pressure, but none of the unnecessary stress of my previous employed status, to make me come up with work I was proud of...ON TIME.

So what if I was baggy-eyed, my head buzzing from sleep-deprived delirium, and panting down the street to submit the notarized three copies of my work to the Palanca office at 11:55 PM, five minutes short of the annual literary contest deadline? I was pumped up! At least, nobody put me up to it. Whatever stress I was feeling was completely, unblinkingly my choice. If I didn't make the deadline, nobody would miss me. I wouldn't get a salary deduction, a less-than-stellar employee evaluation, nor the evil eye from my boss. But I would have another sleepness night, and this time I wouldn't be feverishly finishing my play or short story or essay; I would be staring at the unfinished work in my hands, berating myself for being such a lazy-ass slowpoke, being hugely disappointed at myself. THAT, as far as I'm concerned, is a worse fate.

Winning a writing contest is always a great thing and while, at the start, it used to be my primary objective, I now join contests to help me complete my work. Writing contests, with its deadline and, sometimes, theme can be incredibly useful that way, especially for someone like me who values personal freedom so much that it sometimes threatens that other thing I value as much--being productive. My freedom as a writer means nothing if it does not encourage me to produce work. I tell all my writing students this. And that is why a big part of our writing program is to join writing contests. It is not to make them medal- or recognition-hungry which makes them write only what they think will win instead of what is authentic to them (although that's a real danger), but to use these contests as a tool to effectively articulate all the thoughts and ideas that free-spirited people find so difficult to do.

My latest essay is the product of my joining a writing contest--The Philippine Star's "If My Life Were A Book..." I don't know what the verdict is on this one and honestly, I've not been losing sleep over it. I like the essay and I'm proud of the time and thought I gave to it. So I'm sharing it with any one of you who may be interested.

To my writing students: guys, asan na essays niyo? ;)

4 comments:

everythingyso said...

so that's what i should do! join a contest! mwahahaha- annette

ininabadji said...

korrrrek! ;)

mameejhy said...

when i was younger i used to join writing contests pero bakit habang tumatagal eh nawalan ako ng gana magsulat? parang nawala ang desire ko. ayaw ko naman isipin na nawala ang talent ko... nawawala ba yun? :)

ininabadji said...

i'm not sure kung nawawala ang talent.it can be dormant, i guess, when it's not used or wanted.my personal feeling is that a sustained desire for something makes that thing exist.if you want to write again and that desire is strong, it will come back ;)